‘’You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.’’ (4b)
There is nothing wrong with fasting. It is part of the normal Christian life. Jesus showed this in His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, saying, ‘’When you fast…’’ (Matthew 6:16). There is no ‘if’ about it; it’s ‘when’. (See also Matthew 6: 2 and 5. Jesus expected His disciples to give, pray and fast. If you want to look at this subject more deeply, I suggest reading John Piper’s excellent book, ‘A hunger for God.’)
However, there is a way of fasting that is totally wrong and Isaiah 58 points this out. Someone who fasts can ‘’seem eager’’ (2b) spiritually, and we may be impressed with their intensity. It as ‘’as if’’ they were very saintly. But God has ‘x-ray’ vision and sees past the appearance of things. ‘’ When you strive to be a spiritual person, you fight the constant battle of ‘’ritual versus reality.’’ It is much easier to go through the external activities of religion than it is to love God from your heart and let that love touch the lives of others.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.488. Here are three ways in which your fasting can be ineffective:
- If you do not turn from your sin. God had been calling again and again to His people through Isaiah; pleading with them to repent. The majority would not. You cannot expect fasting, important as it is, to cut any ice with heaven while you are holding on to your favourite sins. Psalm 66:18 provides an important comment on the whole subject.
- If you still continue to do it your way (3b, 13). This is closely related to the above point. If you go to church on a Sunday (or give yourself to some other special set aside time to seek God), but return home to live as you did before, going your own way and doing your own will, don’t expect any prayer and fasting to bring about the desired change in your circumstances. It doesn’t work like that. Without submission to the Lordship of God you are merely going through an empty religious ritual. Fasting was intended to be a means of self-humbling before God. ‘’The orthodox faith was popular in Judah at that time, and people enjoyed learning the Word and even participating in fasts (vv.2-3). But when the services were over, the worshippers went back to exploiting people and pleasing themselves.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.488.
- If you do not care about issues of injustice in the world and take appropriate action; serving the poor and needy as you have opportunity.
‘’The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground.’’ The Message.
That is all negative. However there is a way in which we can be ‘’heard on high’’ as we pray and fast. We should not miss this point. Those who genuinely seek God with fasting, turning from their sinful ways and their own wilful paths; serving all around them who need their help; such people will experience immense blessing from God (6-14). As Wiersbe says, your life can become a ‘’watered garden, not a dismal swamp.’’
Prayer: I choose not to give up on fasting, but to give up on sin and self-pleasing.